(Letter written Apr 4 1870, published Apr 6 1870)
In this, his last known letter on the subject of the Tay Bridge, Matthew appears to be responding to a rumour that the proposed bridge at Dundee will now be constructed as a low bridge (this is not true – the 1878 bridge was indeed a high bridge as originally conceived). Matthew criticises the bridge company for its duplicity, arguing that a high bridge was never intended, and points out that the new low-bridge design would cut off boat navigation up the Tay. He advocates once again his alternative bridge scheme at Newburgh, and repeats his previous concern that the Dundee Bridge will silt up the Tay.
Matthew also refers to his long-standing opposition to the Corn Laws (“the landlord monopoly of food”) and to the British system of land tenure “(there still exists the landlord monopoly of land, not only preventing the improvement of the soil, but gradually causing sterility)”. He notes that “monopoly is injurious to the monopolist as well as those over whom he monopolises, curtailing the natural liberty of the latter and removing the great natural law of competition from the former”, and argues that a low bridge would give Dundee a “monopoly of navigation as bad as the trades’ union monopoly of labour”. He notes that “monopoly is in every respect hurtful … to render the many indirect slaves to the few, but to injure all.”
THE SPANISH CASTLES IN THE AIR DEFUNCT.
Sir,— We have now a new phase of the proposed Dundee Bridge. The scheme of a rainbow bridge and castles in the air is now laid aside when it is no longer necessary to parade it. Every person of judgment knew the high bridge was a hoax, and that the maintenance of such bridge, were it erected, would require more repairs than the worth of it. The motive for proposing the rainbow bridge was mainly a fear that the people of the upper Firth and Parliament might be startled at a proposal of a low bridge shutting up the navigation of the Tay Firth at Dundee. But now that Perth has sold its birthright of free navigation to the ocean for a mess of pottage, (I question the right of the Perth Magistrates to do so), and that Parliament from its ignorance of the localities — that the whole of the south side of the Tay Firth upward from the site of the proposed bridge to Newburgh, about 13 miles, is generally deep water in shore, and otherwise better fitted for the site of manufacturing and commercial cities, than even Dundee itself is, from the greater conveniency of procuring Fife minerals, and the greater amenity of the climate, the question then comes to be, Is power to be granted to Dundee to bar up the Tay Firth at Dundee, so as to exclude all navigation except small craft, and give Dundee a monopoly of the trade of Tay Firth. I thought we had had enough trouble in getting the landlord monopoly of food removed (there still exists the landlord monopoly of land, not only preventing the improvement of the soil, but gradually causing sterility), so to take good care not to permit a monopoly in navigation to be established. Need I mention that, as a general law, monopoly is injurious to the monopolist as well as those over whom he monopolises, curtailing the natural liberty of the latter and removing the great natural law of competition from the former. This monopoly of navigation is an infraction of the liberty of the people of Fife and Perthshire in favour of that of Angusshire, and ought not to be submitted to. It is monopoly of navigation as bad as the trades’ union monopoly of labour. Are we to have a new monopoly raised as fast as we put another down? Monopoly is in every respect hurtful — a breach of human liberty, to injure the many for the supposed advantage of the few — to render the many indirect slaves to the few, but to injure all. A bridge at Dundee would be about three miles in length, that at Newburgh only about 300 yards, and at a cost of one-tenth of that at Dundee. The bridge at Newburgh would be even more advantageous to Dundee than the one at Dundee, as well for the north and south traffic of Scotland as the east and west, while it would afford the minerals of Fife at a lower rate of carriage to Dundee than the expensive bridge at Dundee would, and at the same time afford them lower to the Carse and hills of Gowrie.
There is no means of knowing what mad schemes an engineer might propose. But my opinion is that the high rainbow bridge was never intended to be built, but only to be brought forward to blind the population on the upper Firth to the true intent of shutting up the Firth by a low bridge at Dundee, if they saw that such would be permitted. Some may wonder at such a low ruse being attempted. I wonder at the supineness of the landholders on the sides of the upper Firth, that they do not combine to protect these rights of free navigation access to the ocean. The town of Newburgh especially, up to which there is deep water, and which some time back was preferred to Dundee as the port of the shipping of the London and Tay Shipping Company, should protest against the erection of this bridge. Newburgh, to every unprejudiced person, is incomparably the best position for a bridge the farthest down over the Tay. The protection of the Tay river and Firth downward to Dundee was entrusted to the magistrates of Perth. This trust has, I am informed, been made an article of sale! Should not this trust be immediately taken out of the hands of these salesmen by Government? In a former number of the Courier & Argus I pointed out the effect that the piers of a bridge at Dundee would have to gradually silt up the large natural scour-basin, the Tay Firth above Dundee, which, filling and emptying every tide, serves to deepen the Firth from Dundee downward, and to keep down the Bar which the breaking waves throw up at the mouth of Tay. I also pointed out the effect the piers of the bridge would have in sanding up Dundee Harbour. As a sincere well-wisher of the prosperity of Dundee, I would reiterate the necessity of a consideration of this.— I am, &c.,
Gourdie Hill, Errol, April 4, 1870.